• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Where Is the Truth in Post-Truth Time?

Where Is the Truth in Post-Truth Time?


On June 3-4, a conference entitled ‘Beyond Post-Truth: Media Landscapes in the “Age of Insecurity”’ was held in St. Petersburg. The conference was jointly organized by the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities (IGITI) at HSE University, the Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe at GWZO Leipzig, the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt, and Justus-Liebig-University Giessen. 

The HSE News Service spoke with the organizers and participants about the main ideas and goals of the conference, including Daria Petushkova, postgraduate of School of Philosophy at HSE; Jan Surman, Research Fellow at the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities; and Prof. Dr. Andreas Langenohl of the Institute for Sociology atJustus-Liebig-Universität in Germany.

The idea behind the post-truth conference 

‘The idea for the conference actually came from a Facebook post – when we were holding a conference entitled “A New Culture of Truth? On the Transformation of Political Epistemologies since the 1960s” in Erfurt. Daria noted that it would be nice to hold it in Russia as well – and so we did,’ says Jan Surman. ‘But in fact, there are several continuities here. We are working with colleagues in Erfurt and Leipzig on an ongoing project about political epistemologies, which is increasingly becoming an investigation of the most recent transformations of political-philosophical concepts. In Moscow, Daria and I have a project called “Cultures of Critique” that involves critical investigation of the present time. So “post-truth” is just a stone’s throw from it.’

Why post-truth? 

As Jan Surman stated, if you live in France or Russia, post-truth is omnipresent. People mostly use it in a way that implies that there is something as a past truth that was governing our lives, often in connection with security provided by the media and science. Clearly, this bygone era did not exist; it is more a myth, a kind of false security of a possibility that we could return to a time of strict division between truths and lies, to a time when people allegedly knew what was right and wrong. Clearly, much has changed in recent years in the political, social and media landscape, but using ‘post-truth’ or ‘fake news’ uncritically does not make us understand what the change is and where it happens.

‘So while we use post-truth in the title,’ says Jan Surman, ‘our conference in fact aimed to establish new ways of talking about the phenomenon of informational insecurity but also to better understand the mechanisms behind the “merchants of doubt” to allude to a recent book by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway.’

Research on post-truth is actually at a moment when scholarly interest and social interest are coming together and growing apart simultaneously.

Jan Surman proposed:

‘In fact, when we started the conference in Erfurt that I mentioned above, we started from the critique of “science marches”: clearly, there are institutions trying to discredit scientific research, but these marches brought back science as an instance of absolute truth, which is problematic, especially from the point of view of historians or sociologists who have put considerable effort in recent decades to demonstrate that science and knowledge are always “situated” and dependent on many local factors. Thus, there is a tension between the societal need for security and of instances providing it, and researchers showing that the basis of this security is not “strong” and cannot remain unquestioned.

So now, the intention behind our conference is not to deny the fact that there are institutions spreading “fake news” or lies, but rather to look at which mechanisms make people believe in different truths and accept them. As strange as it might seem, our proposal for societal security is accepting that there are no instances in which absolute certainty is provided.’

Word of the year for 2016

In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary named ‘post-truth’ the word of the year. The term is defined as ‘denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’

Daria Petushkova continued:

‘We are told by experts that in the post-truth era we are facing the problem of emotions replacing facts and falsehoods replacing news. Political observers state that “we have entered a post-truth era and that there is no coming back” but what does it actually mean? The prefix ‘post’ signals explicitly that ‘truth’ seems to be no longer relevant.

The analysis Hannah Arendt provided more than five decades ago in ‘Truth and Politics’ becomes crucial in these circumstances. She argued that ‘the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth, and the truth be defamed as lies, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed.’

So how should we actually be dealing with the rise of this ‘new sensibility’, which treats emotional reactions and personal opinions higher than strong evidence and credible information?

One of the main aims of our conference was to embrace the spectrum of the questions that derive from the current ‘post-truth situation’ with a special focus on its specific vagueness.

Post-normativity should replace post-truth

Prof. Dr. Andreas Langenohl of theInstitute for Sociology at Justus-Liebig-Universität added that post-truth refers to a widespread sentiment that political communication, and political culture, have lost a fundamental normative orientation towards the truth, as opposed to lies.

He undertook conceptual research study in order to point out that ‘post-truth’ might be an inadequate term to describe current transformations taking place in the political and public sphere.

‘We should consider replacing the notion of “post-truth” with that of “post-normativity” which, to my mind, better captures a situation in which political messages are often reduced to the question of truth or lie,’ he shared as the main message of his report at the conference.


See also:

The ICEF-CInSt Conference as a Platform for International Research Networking

On November 24–25, 2023, the 12th ICEF-CInSt International Finance Conference took place in Moscow. Researchers from Russia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the USA, Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom contributed as speakers and discussants. The organisers and participants of the conference shared their impressions of the event with the HSE News Service.

‘Studying Is an Invaluable Opportunity to Learn from Experts and Explore Diverse Perspectives’

Mateo Rojas Samper, from Colombia, is a student of thePolitics. Economics. Philosophy master’s programme at the HSE University Faculty of Social Sciences. Matteo spoke to the HSE News Service about the importance of engaging in both theory and practice in his studies at HSE University, as well as his participation in the Model United Nations and the Russia–Latin America International Parliamentary Conference.

‘Our Experimental Economics Community Welcomes Everyone from Professors to Bachelor’s Students’

From September 19–27, 2023, the Third Pacific School Conference on Experimental Economics (PSEE) will take place in Vladivostok. The conference has been organised by the HSE UniversityInternational Laboratory for Experimental and Behavioural Economics as part of the Mirror Laboratories project with the Research Laboratory for Modelling Socio-Economic Processes at Far Eastern Federal University. The conference will be held in an in-person format, and foreign participants can take part online.

Pivot to the East: A Comprehensive Study of the Cultural and Civilisational Centres of the Non-Western World is the Top Priority

China and the Chinese world, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Arab countries, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and Africa are gaining new significance in Russia’s foreign policy. However, we do not know enough about the Eastern countries. It is necessary to change the priorities in education, starting from grammar school. Prospects for the development of domestic Oriental studies in the context of the new stage in the development of the system of international relations were discussed at a round table at HSE University.

‘I Admire HSE Students’ Eagerness to Learn, to Discuss, to Broaden Their Perspectives’

Robert Romanowski was a ‘Digital Professor’ at HSE University in November 2021. In his interview for the HSE News Service, he talked about the specifics of online teaching, his course on Strategic Branding, and the skills that are essential for marketing professionals today.

Russia and Africa: Time to Expand Cooperation

There is major potential for economic and humanitarian cooperation between Russia and African countries. Particularly, Russian organisations and universities can help transfer competencies and knowledge in the fields of agriculture, energy, industrial production, environmental management, climate change, and public administration. Experts and representatives of African embassies in Russia discussed these issues at the round table ‘Russia-Africa Sharing Knowledge’ hosted by HSE University.

The Brain in Space: Investigating the Effects of Long Spaceflights on Space Travellers

As part of an international project conducted with the participation of Roscosmos and the European Space Agency, a team of researchers used differential tractography to analyse dMRI scans ofcosmonauts’ brains and found significant changes in brain connectivity, with some of the changes persisting after seven months back on Earth. The paper is published in Frontiers in Neural Circuits.

HSE University-Perm and the Training Centre of the Uzbek Ministry of Finance Sign Cooperation Agreement

HSE University in Perm has become the first academic partner of the Training Centre under the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The parties have signed a cooperation agreement in education and research. 

HSE University Strengthens Ties with Netherlands in Agricultural Research and Education

On November 9, 2021, HSE University signed a memorandum of understanding with Wageningen University & Research, a major university in the Netherlands and one of the leading agricultural research institutes in the world. Participants of the signing ceremony included HSE University Rector Nikita Anisimov, President of the Wageningen University & Research Executive Board Professor Louise Fresco, and Dutch Ambassador to Russia Gilles Beschoor Plug.

The Majority of Russians Do Not Support Microchip Implants

The majority of Russians would not agree to being fitted with microchip implants for any purposes—medical or otherwise. A joint study conducted by HSE University’s International Laboratory for Applied Network Research and Aventica found that respondents believe the risks of personal data leaks and misuse to be too high.